5 Top Tips On Living With a Russian Host Family
17 August, 2017
The thought of visiting Russia did frighten me somewhat. Prior to my arrival, a few questions would whizz around my head: Will I be able to cope with the language? Will I make friends? Will I manage to be successful as a student there? However, what worried me most was whether I would get on with my host family…
Upon both of my visits to Russia, I have stayed with the same host family. I am fortunate enough to know them and genuinely get on well with them. Undoubtedly, living with them has been one of my personal highlights from my time spent in Saint Petersburg.
Living with a Russian family is certainly a great chance to have a truly unique perspective on life in Russia. My own experience of this has allowed me to develop a better appreciation for Russian culture and it has meant that I have been able to breakdown cultural barriers that simply exist between British and Russian culture.
Of course, it must be said that prior to arriving and settling in, everyone goes through that nerve-racking stage of worrying since it is difficult to know what to expect and what it will be like. But there really is no need to worry! The tips below will help you get the most out of your time in Russia whilst living with a host family.
This may be obvious, yet it really will be so beneficial for your Russian! I’m sure that you will ultimately come to Russia to learn or improve your Russian and there is no better way to do it than practice with your host family who will be native speakers. Don’t be afraid if you make mistakes when you speak Russian (we all make mistakes!), but you must use this opportunity to learn to communicate in Russian. The more you chat with your family, the more confidence you will develop in speaking Russian. You will have the chance to hear phrases that you may not see in a textbook. My favourite phrase that I otherwise may not have picked up and still often hear as I step out of the shower is С легким паром! (I hope you had a pleasant shower). Such words and phrases which you may not otherwise come across will broaden your scope of the Russian language and hearing the language every day means that your ears will tune into the rich sounds and tones of Russian. These elements are all important factors that will help to develop your pronunciation, comprehension, and grasp of the language.
Try out the food, but be clear and communicate!
Russian food is certainly interesting! Perhaps, you may worry that it will just be meat and potatoes, but I can tell you that it is definitely not as simple as that. A stay with a host family will allow you to taste true Russian food. It will be made and prepared by people who have been eating this food for their entire lives and you will arrive back in your home country as a true gastronomic guru of Russian cuisine. Some of my favourite Russian dishes that I have wolfed down include: Cалат Оливье (Olivier salad), щи (shchi, i.e., a cabbage soup), пельмени (pelmeni, i.e., dumplings which can be served with a variety of fillings), and finally оладушки (oladushki, i.e., small thin pancakes).
Nevertheless, if you simply can’t stomach fish or are vegetarian or have an allergy to nuts, then be polite and truthful with them from the get go. It is far better to be honest earlier on rather than sitting at the dinner table and eating none of the food that they have prepared for you.
Get closer to the Russian mentality
In some parts of Europe, there is a stereotype that Russians are generally not the friendliest of people. However, this is not true. Living with a Russian host family will allow you to see just how kind and welcoming Russians are, whilst at the same time enabling you to get a better perspective of life through the eyes of local people who actually live in the city in which you are studying. The potential that comes with living with a Russian host family will mean that you get a step closer to understanding Russian life. Some differences between your country and Russia will exist and these must simply be respected. Just because things may be different in your host family’s home doesn’t insinuate that they are at all bad. Learning from certain differences will let you understand how Russians think and it will broaden your own perspectives of life in general.
Make the effort to spend time with them
As a student living with a host family, there will be times when you are at home perhaps doing homework or just relaxing. But if you make the effort with them, then you will soon realise that they will be fascinated by your own life and interests. In my own case, for example, I found out that one member of my host family enjoys playing шахматы (chess). Whilst I may also like chess, it doesn’t exactly imply that I am any good at it. Nonetheless, I regularly play chess with my host Alyosha. Despite, the fact we have played many times and I am yet to win, I really enjoy each game! This has given me the chance to have some interesting conversations with him whilst we play and as such learn some key words surrounding the game. Мат (checkmate), шах (check), пешка (pawn), ферзь (queen), шахматная доска (chessboard) and so on.
However, chess isn’t the only activity I have done with my host family, I have also been on some walks with them around the city. They have told me a lot about the history and culture of Saint Petersburg. So, don’t be afraid to get involved and make sure you get to know your host family. You never know what may come from it!
Stay in touch
A stay with a host family will become part of your daily life when you are abroad. By the end of your time abroad, you will have spent a lot of time with them and you may have built up a close relationship with one another. It would be a great shame to return home without their contact details or address. So, make sure that you exchange these details! You never know; you may end up living with them again!
I hope that these tips put your mind at ease and come in handy if you do go on to stay with a host family!